Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
28 Jan 2010
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: Every week, your Scramble writers award players, coaches and owners for mind-bogglingly bad decisions or performances -- those actions that go above and beyond mediocrity and directly lead to their team losing. Over the course of the season, a few starts fall down into the dregs, and subtly or overtly hang about their team's neck like an albatross. These are the players of the All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team. Tom and I went through position by position and picked out some of our favorite wood-choppers. Keep in mind that this is not only incredibly subjective, but rife with partial information; while it's easy to get good information on the NFL's premiere performers, it's not quite so easy to get information on the chronic underachievers and purveyors of debilitating mediocrity.
(You will now listen to the following...)
Mike: As tacky as it is, I'm going to go with Mark Sanchez. He had a really long run of absolutely putrid games this season, on a team with a great defense and running attack. Had he played even half-decently, the Jets would have been destroying opponents left and right. As it was, they ended up sneaking into the playoffs, had to play on the road, and were destroyed in the championship game (although I should add that the AFC Championship loss was not his fault).
Tom: He did, but he's not the only quarterback who had a really long stretch of absolutely putrid games this season, on a team with a great running attack and a defense that played very well (for part of the year, at least). With The Sanchize, there was reason to believe he was the best quarterback on his team. Kellen Clemens only threw 29 passes, but had a worse DVOA than Sanchez. The quarterback ranked No. 10 by DVOA was ... Matt Moore. He had a DVOA over 40 percentage points higher than Jake Delhomme.
Tom: Bill Belichick never played in the NFL, so he obviously can't be a decent coach. Just ask Larry Johnson. Johnson was actually OK in Cincinnati, but was a cancer in Kansas City. Steve Slaton gets an honorable mention. While he had a very fine receiving year, he ended up dead last in the league in rushing DVOA, a massive sophomore slump.
Mike: It's tempting to talk about bad players screwing up mediocre teams, but there's a special kind of awful a player can attain, when he wrecks a bad team. Jamal Lewis held on to his job for dear life, which I suppose is commendable, after a fashion, but it meant that his team's offense, which was at one point headed by Derek freaking Anderson relied upon him to be decent. He was putrid. What's worse, he sat in the way of a promising young running back, the kind of player a rebuilding team desperately needs to build up. That is inexcusable.
Mike: Lots of players chop wood because they're not ready to step up into a new and more important role. For wide receivers, that means getting No. 1 wide receiver coverage, attention from the likes of Darelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha. When a top player is injured, there is massive wood-chopping potential in his backup. Eddie Royal went from a stand-out rookie season in the shadow of Brandon Marshall, in which he compiled a 71 percent catch rating, to dead last in DYAR and DVOA and a 47 percent catch rating. The Broncos needed Royal to step up, and he did a faceplant.
Tom: Speaking of bad catch percentage, Darrius Heyward-Bey compiled an epic 23 percent catch rating, and was also the best wide receiver in the league at falling down while running. He must make this team.
Mike: I want to pick a bad blocking tight end, since tight ends are more associated with receiving nowadays, I'm having trouble coming up with one. Hooray, I just demonstrated irony.
Tom: Robert Royal is a good option.
Mike: Do I really want to just pick on the Browns, though?
Tom: Do we ever not?
Mike: So true. Sadly, we don't have L.J. Smith to kick around anymore.
Tom: But we do have Bo Scaife! What's the franchise tag get you? The 35th-ranked tight end by DVOA! Scaife finished behind the aged Alge Crumpler, who aside from his creaky knees picked up all of the weight LenDale White lost.
Mike: Franchising a mediocre tight end is just hilarious, like franchising a punter.
Tom: Or a kicker!
Mike: It's a common refrain that penalty-prone linemen are a massive liability to their offense, and it's quite true -- very few drives can survive a holding penalty, and false starts often put teams in unmanageable positions. Jeremy Trueblood, however, is in a league of his own. He's a holding and false start machine, tied for second in the league with 13 penalties, and he's generally a turnstile. On top of this, he somehow caught a reputation as a dirty player. Not "Olin Kruetz cheats" dirty, but "getting fined over $26,000 by the league" dirty. How do you rack up that much unnecessary roughness? Especially as an offensive lineman!
Tom: Consider him an overachiever.
Mike: He's got to be some kind of psychopath.
Tom: Most overachievers are. San Francisco was horrid up the middle, and when a team is that bad, blame usually goes to the center. Not so for the 49ers, where Eric Heitmann was fine but left guard David Baas and right guard Chilo Rachal proved to be pathetically weak links on a line that Samurai Mike desperately needed to play well. If you want a center, Richie Incognito can play there. He should be recognized for his contributions (personal fouls, most notably) to the putrid lines of the Rams and Bills. Incognito was so bad he actually had Buffalo teammates calling him out before he even signed with the team.
Mike: Consistent mediocrity is a useful qualification for the All-KCW team, but occasionally a few bad games will be enough to get you through the door. Pro-Bowler Chris Snee had injury issues near the end of the year, removing a powerful piece of the Giants' power-rushing puzzle. Into his shoes stepped Kevin Boothe, who tried. Bless his soul, he tried. It just wasn't nearly enough. This is kind of the opposite of Orlando Pace, who kinda-sorta tried, but mostly took up space. Sadly, it was space in front of Matt Forte, and not in front of Jay Cutler.
Mike: We briefly considered Chris "Please Throw at Nnamdi and Leave Me Alone" Johnson, but there was another cornerback who has been pulled into Oakland's inescapable miasma of suck: Stanford Routt. Game charting data so far lists Routt with 11.0 yards allowed per pass and a Success Rate of just 49 percent. His most memorable sequence of the year was in Week 16, where he earned an ejection for head-butting a Brown in the middle of Cleveland drive with less than a minute left in the half. It was his second unsportsmanlike penalty of the game, just a few plays after Richard Seymour collected his second unnecessary roughness penalty. I don't remember exactly, but I believe there were five personal fouls or unsportsmanlike flags within the last two minutes of that half. Truly a comedy of errors, and emblematic of Routt's approach to Raider Football.
Tom: More than other positions, cornerback penalties are costly, since defensive pass interference is a spot foul that usually occurs deep in the defense's secondary. Marcus Trufant kept himself busy in his 10 games this year, notching nine pass interference penalties and aiding in Seattle's monumental collapse.
Tom: So, Sabby Piscitelli. It’s kind of a fun name, in that juvenile, vaguely dirty way some Italian names are. His house was burglarized during the win against Green Bay this year, and burglary is wrong and illegal, so he has my sympathies. I hope he was covered by insurance. If you do an Internet search on him, he’s apparently somewhat of a favorite of the ladies. They had an easy time finding him this year; all they had to do was look at who was supposed to be there when Tampa Bay gave up a long touchdown pass.
Mike: C.C. Brown was an awful safety for the Texans. He was even worse for the Giants. Any discussion of Brown also must be accompanied by "Yakety Sax." (I refer you to the top of the column. I hope you still have it running.)
Tom: Hunter Hillenmeyer was pretty bad.
Mike: Hillenmeyer wasn't KCW bad, just a normal, workmanlike, Bears kind of bad.
Tom: DeMorrio Williams, on the other hand, was a Kansas City kind of bad.
Mike: Detroit actually has a good linebacker corps, with the exception of a gaping hole named Ernie Sims. He can't cover, he can't tackle, he can't play decent run support. I think the Lions' defense would improve enormously just by replacing him with a replacement-level player.
Tom: I feel like we should have another linebacker, but nobody’s coming to mind. Instead, I’ll move Stanford Routt inside to play the nickel and add Nick Harper: Human Target as a third corner. There’s a reason you don’t see many 35-year-old cornerbacks in the NFL, especially if they were never particularly fast in the first place. Harper didn't make a single "successful" tackle on a completed pass until the second half of the season.
Mike: It's kind of a shame that the Williamses had their suspensions suspended, as that would have been the mother of all KCWs.
Tom: Derrick Harvey has been an absolute bust as the 2008 eighth-overall pick for Jacksonville. That team had no pass rush all year, and he was a big reason why.
Mike: But, Tom, top 10 picks are always good players. Just look at Glenn Dorsey! Interestingly, Kansas City was much worse against runs to left tackle than mid-guard.
Tom: Maybe Ron Edwards was a decent nose tackle?
Mike: Kansas City has to do something right, don't they?
(crickets chirp in the background.)
Tom: Jamal Williams' backup, Ogdemi Nwagbuo, was so impressive that the Chargers picked up Texans bust Travis Johnson and Bears castoff Alfonso Boone and revamped their defense a little to fix the problem.
Mike: That's some pretty powerful chopping, considering the Chargers needed, more than anything, stout run defense. Actually, that's really all the Chargers needed. That and maybe some potent form of anti-Norv.
Tom: Atlanta was last in our field goal and extra point rankings, but really, Kris Brown was nearly as bad, and bad at key moments.
Mike: The Green Bay coverage unit bears special mention. While the team was slightly below average at punt and kick returns, they still managed to finish dead last in the NFL on overall special teams, thanks to a net punting value more than six points lower than the next-lowest team. But while the Packers were bad at kick coverage, there is still nothing remotely close to the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose kick coverage ended the year at -35.4 DYAR, which was roughly four times as bad as Detroit, the No. 31 team. Want to know why the Steelers missed the playoffs? There you go.
Tom: So, Dave is no longer in the lead.
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Tom: The lead instead belongs to the FO staffer who was foresighted and amazing enough to draft eight of his nine players from the Colts and Saints, the two teams who, of course, made it to the Super Bowl. I am referring, of course, to the extraordinarily humble yours truly.
Mike: Tom the Incredibly Lucky, is what we call him around the water cooler.
Tom: I have 170 points. Dave is next with 156 points, with Bush and Meachem left. Sean has Dallas Clark and 144 points. Mike has New Orleans' defense and 133. Vince is done with 108, and Aaron is bringing up the rear with 104, but still has Peyton Manning and Indianapolis' defense. My intuition that defenses don't matter much seems to be true, as the top defenses -- New Orleans and the Jets-- only have nine points each, although Baltimore and Minnesota, not chosen in the Staff League, each have 11.
Mike: Defenses don't matter a whole lot in general, especially in the new, offense uber alles NFL.
Tom: I don't think the rules for defense in this league provide enough reward for good defenses, which is as it should be.
Mike: Even then, most defenses are a wash. Looking at the defenses from my Yahoo! league, which was had pretty favorable scoring, the main difference was that the numbers were higher. There was a divide between good teams and bad teams but between good teams was was fairly even.
Tom: I wouldn't mind that so much. The top four quarterbacks in the Staff League have 40-48 points. On an interesting note: Jermichael Finley is the top-scoring tight end on a staffer team, with only 15 points. Peyton Manning is the top quarterback, Peterson and Rice are the top running backs, and Rice, Collie and Fitzgerald are the top wide receivers. Garrett Hartley is the top kicker.
Mike: I will say that I don't see this performance as a repudiation of my strategy. The lesson here is that I need to learn to pick winners better.
Mike: I was foolish, I know.
Tom: I'm sure you'll remedy that next year by taking JaMarcus Russell.
Mike: Somebody said he was comparable to Mark Sanchez! What could possibly go wrong?
|FO Playoff Divisional Results (Players in bold are still active)|
|Aaron||Peyton Manning||48||LaDainian Tomlinson||2||Marion Barber||1||Miles Austin||17||Julian Edelman||16||Percy Harvin||4||Antonio Gates||9||Nate Kaeding||2||IND||5||103|
|Dave||Brett Favre||44||Adrian Peterson||37||Reggie Bush||23||Randy Moss||4||Greg Jennings||19||Robert Meachem||1||Jason Witten||11||Jay Feely||17||NE||0||156|
|Vince||Aaron Rodgers||40||Ray Rice||37||Laurence Maroney||0||DeSean Jackson||7||Donald Driver||4||Chad Ochocinco||2||Jermichael Finley||15||Mason Crosby||8||GB||-5||108|
|Mike||Tom Brady||7||Ryan Grant||7||Cedric Benson||23||Sidney Rice||42||Jeremy Maclin||20||Derrick Mason||6||Brent Celek||5||Ryan Longwell||14||NO||9||133|
|Sean||Philip Rivers||22||Thomas Jones||19||Beanie Wells||15||Vincent Jackson||11||Larry Fitzgerald||27||Steve Breaston||25||Dallas Clark||14||Stephen Gostkowski||2||NYJ||9||144|
|Tom||Drew Brees||45||Joseph Addai||12||Pierre Thomas||27||Reggie Wayne||17||Marques Colson||16||Austin Collie||29||Jeremy Shockey||9||Garrett Hartley||18||CIN||-3||170|
We have a new leader in the Best of the Rest bracket. Dryheat's still at a fine 155 points, but Chris UK is our new leader with 187 points and Ryan D has moved into second with 164. Chris' team benefited from the Jets' playoff run, with good scores put up by Sanchez and Dustin Keller, the NFL's top fantasy tight end in the playoffs by a large margin, and he has Pierre Garcon remaining. Ryan D has Garcon as well, plus Devery Henderson, so 24 from Devery would put him over the top. Dryheat is stuck at 155, and could be passed by Podge (150, Garcon), Sid (143, Henderson), and ammek (144, Garcon, Stover).
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: It would be a minor exaggeration to say the Vikings' offensive game plan was "find Tracy Porter, throw ball," as Randall Gay and hole in zone were both targeted a lot as well, but there's a reason cornerbacks normally aren't tied for the team lead in tackles like Porter was. And that doesn't include his whiffed tackle on third down early in the Vikings' final drive that would have given the Saints the ball back.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Playing for a 51-yard field goal to win is a great decision. That's why Brad Childress is renowned as a great coach, just like Mike Martz.
COLBERT AWARD: Certainly not Jim Caldwell, who thrice kicked field goals when going for it would've been wise. Instead, this goes to Sean Payton for heeding Herm Edwards' philosophy and going for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime to keep his team's drive going and eventually win the game.
72 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2010, 3:21pm by Tommy M